The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed by several small airline operators in which they asked the court to quash the renaming of the Ogle International Airport to the Eugene F. Correia International Airport. The regional court, however, emphasised the importance of meaningful consultations by public authorities with relevant stakeholders.
The airline operators that challenged the name change included: Air Services Limited, Roraima Airways, Wings Aviation Limited, Hinterland Aviation Incorporated, Domestic Airways Incorporated, Hopkinson Mining and Logistics Incorporation, and Air Transport Association Incorporated.
The name change was approved by the Minister of Public Infrastructure, but the airline operators did not agree with it. They contended that the Minister had a duty to consult with them before he proceeded with the renaming exercise, as such an undertaking would be harmful to them and their business interests.
The CCJ found that the duty to consult in this case related to the question of whether the proposed new name should be approved or not. In delivering the judgment of the court, CCJ Judge Denys Barrow noted that the airline operators were able to discuss the name change, among other issues, at a meeting with the Minister on November 18, 2015.
According to Justice Barrow, the airline operators provided a brief to the Minister of all on the issues discussed, including the name change. In that brief, the submission concerning the renaming required nothing more than to ‘Leave Ogle Airport name as it is’.
“There was nothing provided by the appellants [airline operators] that suggested that the Minister would not have understood the nature and substance of their objection. The Court found that the Minister took their concerns seriously enough that he commissioned a legal review of the lease,” the CCJ held.
Taking this into consideration, the court further held that there was no need for further consultations, as advanced by the airline operators. The CCJ reasoned that this was a case where they disagreed with the merits of the Minister’s decision, for which the law gives no remedy.
In a separate, concurring opinion, CCJ Judge Peter Jamadar emphasised that the duty of the Minister to consult is rooted in the Constitution of Guyana, distinct from any procedural rights based on other legal sources.
When the airport was officially renamed the Eugene F. Correia International Airport on May 09, 2016, seven of the domestic airline services in Guyana and an association formed by them sought judicial review of the minister’s approval of that name change.
The orders they sought were refused by the Guyana High Court and the appeal against that decision was dismissed by the Guyana Court of Appeal. The CCJ granted them special leave to appeal only on the grounds addressing whether the then Minister had a duty to consult with them before approving the name change.
At the CCJ, the airline operators, through their lawyer Devindra Kissoon, argued that their livelihood depends on the fair management of the airport which is majority-owned and controlled by the Correia Group. Among other things, they argued that the Correia Group competes with them and has a monopoly over fuel and leasing lands to persons within the Group for domestic airspace.
Against this backdrop, they said that fairness would have dictated that the Government and Minister consult with the persons who would have been affected by the name change. For his part, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke contended, “There were proper consultations in all the circumstances. The decision of the Court of Appeal was proper.”